Friday 23 August 2013

The Buzz About "Game of Thrones"

By Artur Suski, S.J.


I try my best to understand the contemporary culture in which society is immersed, in order to engage it and Christianize it. Knowing a little something about what people are watching and reading these days is a large part of this. Recently, I noticed that many have been watching the show Game of Thrones, or its book equivalents written by George Martin. I thought I’d give it a try to see what the fuss is all about. Preferring books over shows, I decided to read the book.

I find that the book is very well written. It mimics novels that are based in the medieval times, with a little bit of a fantastical element. While the author does not shy away from investing in character development, it does not feel as if it is dragging on. Furthermore, the plot is extremely engaging, constantly calling the reader to return to it!

As to the themes and the overall “message”, there are a number of them. The most prevalent themes are unsurprisingly very applicable in today’s society as well. The most obvious one is the lust for power and wealth. The Lannisters are at the forefront of this quest: they win the crown through poisoning, deceits and other unjust means; all their efforts are directed toward this end. What the author does exceptionally well is that he awakens in the reader an intense disliking for these characters. You read about them with great disgust when they present themselves. Your repulsion towards them grows as more and more of their dark schemes are discovered.

On the other hand, you develop a great love for those that do all things for the sake of justice, mercy, and honour. The Stark family, especially Eddard Stark, is a model of justice and goodness. Immediately you take a liking to this character: you rejoice when he rejoices, and suffer when he suffers.

Why is this important? Well, what happens when you encounter sly or corrupted people in life? Or, what happens when you encounter people that embody justice? I assume that your response is very different in each case. The book serves as an intensifier of such feelings; it reinforces the mentality of rejecting the bad behaviours and accepting the good ones.

Another prevalent theme is that of loyalty and faithfulness. Who is faithful to whom? Some always remain faithful, while others continue to switch sides for personal gain. This again is an important theme for today where our loyalties are often being put to the test, and by that I don’t only mean loyalties toward friends. What about your loyalty and faithfulness to God and your faith?

To give an example: it was very touching for me to read about the Night’s Watch and the vows that the Black Brothers of the Night’s Watch take in the book. These are the watchmen of the north who guard the entire kingdom from unwelcome invaders from across the “Great Wall”. They take special vows, not unlike the religious vows pronounced by those in religious orders today: they are to be chaste for the rest of their lives; they renounce all property and wealth; they give their whole lives to this service, and they are to be always neutral when it comes to the politics and wars of the seven lords of the kingdom. Their only mission is to watch the wall and to be vigilant. Nothing ought to distract them from this mission. They “wear the black”, that is, they are dressed in black at all times, which is coincidentally similar to the monastic garb of the Eastern and Western Churches.

These are indeed inspiring themes that may edify many. There are, however, some things that I found repulsive about the book: the prevalence of sex and the lack of spiritual depth. There are many sexual scenes in which the author goes into explicit detail. It is something that awakens the imagination in a way that may lead to lust and may cause people to “stumble” if they have problems with lustful thoughts. Some have even stopped watching the show because of its explicit material. The book in this case is better, for you can easily skip such sections by quickly skimming the material.

With regards to the lack of spiritual depth; the characters for the most part believe in “gods”, though it is difficult to discern whether it is out of superstition or from true conviction and faith. The priests are often portrayed as fat, drunken men who are quick to grab a drink and side with the party that is in power rather than with the just. Conversely, there is also a warrior priest that fights with a flaming sword, who, though he is concerned with justice, is especially blood-thirsty and loves wars…

In the end, would I recommend the book? It is an entertaining read that stimulates our inner reflections on the grand themes that are justice, goodness, mercy, faithfulness, and loyalty. As I have mentioned, it is true that the book has some shady aspects, but they are not too far from what we see in our world today; they add to the “realism” of the book.

I end with the vows which the Black brothers make upon being accepted to the Night’s Watch:

"Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honour to the Night's Watch, for this night and all the nights to come." (A Game of Thrones, G. Martin)

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